Tuesday polls: Clinton faces series of potentially game-ending contests

A number of primary contests looming in the next few weeks have still never been polled, though Survey USA corrected the most glaring of these omissions today by releasing the first public survey of Oregon, which votes on May 20th:

  • Barack Obama leads Hillary Clinton 52% to 42%. He is the one who benefits from a very large gender gap (+37%), as he leads by 30% among men.
Oregon's voting is conducted entirely by mail, with all the ballots counted the night of May 20th. That could create a different turnout pattern than what we have witnessed in other states. Another important fact about Oregon is that it holds a closed primary in which only registered Democrats can vote. This could be crucial for the Obama campaign since one of Clinton's main arguments against him is his weakness among registered Democrats and his reliance on independents to win primaries; if Obama maintains a strong lead in Oregon, expect his campaign to use these numbers to counter Clinton's criticism.

Meanwhile, Clinton's main preoccupation is Pennsylvania, for she doesn't have much to expect from any May states if she cannot hold her own on April 22nd. All the polls over the past week showing a dramatic tightening of the race, with Obama even leading in one of them and tying Clinton in a second. Today, three new polls from the Keystone state show very differing trends:

  • Quinnipiac's second poll in six days shows yet another tightening, with Clinton's lead now down to 6%: 50% to 44%. The margin last week was 50% to 41%. Looking at the shifts among internals, there is no particular group who has moved more than others.
  • Rasmussen's survey brings good and bad news for Hillary: She is leading by only 5%, 48% to 43%. But this margin has remained stable in the past week, making Rasmussen the first institute to release a poll without movement away from Clinton.
  • And then we get the surprise: SUSA's new survey shows Clinton jumping back up to a very significant lead, 56% to 38%. Last week, Clinton was leading by 12% (so SUSA never went in the low ranges that other polling institutes are showing).
  • SUSA points to a lot of groups that shifted in the past 3 polls over the past month's (finding shifts among men and Southeast PA voters especially significant), but concludes that "The complete absence of movement among whites and among women is striking. Among white voters, Clinton polled at 61% in all 3 tracking polls. Among women, Clinton was at 62% a month ago, 62% last week, and 61% today."
The combination of these three polls confirms that the run-up to April 22nd will be very interesting, and that the debate next week could be crucial to the results. It goes without saying that a mid-single digit lead is much less than what Clinton needs to win by on April 22nd -- and there are too many polls showing the race to be trending against her for Hillary to be comfortable here. But at least the SUSA poll suggests that (just as in Ohio) Clinton has not lost her upward potential and could recover enough of the ground she has lost lately to survive beyond Pennsylvania. However, the Obama campaign is rapidly gaining confidence in its Pennsylvania numbers and this could lead them to invest even more in the state than they had planned. They do not have to believe that they will win the state, just that they will hold Clinton as low as possible.

Finally, the last primary poll comes from North Carolina, where PPP has found Obama leading Clinton 54% to 33%. This is the same margin that he posted last week, though that can certainly not be held against him given how massive his lead already is.

Pennsylvania, Oregon and North Carolina vote on three different dates; all three Election Days could mean instant death to the Clinton campaign which has very little room for error left. They first have to win Pennsylvania convincingly and they have to post great results on May 6th and May 20th; it seems to me that Clinton can survive without winning North Carolina and Oregon (as long as she wins Indiana and Kentucky comfortably) but she has to keep it close in both of these states -- and right now it doesn't look like she is managing to, at least in North Carolina.

  • General election polls: Washington and Alabama
The day's two general election polls come to us from (who else?) SUSA and Rasmussen:

  • In Washington, SUSA comes out with Obama leading McCain 51% to 44% while the Republican edges out Clinton 46% to 45%. McCain progressed against both Democrats in the past three weeks, when another SUSA poll showed him trailing Clinton by 5 and Obama by 11.
  • In Alabama, Rasmussen finds McCain leading Clinton 51% to 40% and Obama 55% to 37%. McCain's favorability rating (60%) far distances that of Clinton (46%) and Obama (39%).
While no one expects Alabama to be anywhere on the list of competitive states in November, it is worth pointing out that Bush won 63% to 37% in 2004. As for Washington, it is a state both Kerry and Gore had to worry about but ultimately carried more comfortably than neighboring Oregon -- so Democrats better hope to take a firmer control of the state's 11 electoral votes.

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